False equivalence



To the Editor:

Readers of James Fallows in “The Atlantic” will recognize the term “false equivalence,” which Fallows describes as the tendency in mainstream journalism to present differing views as equally valid “sides” of an argument, even if one of them is objectively true and the other is not.

“The ‘both sides make their claims, who are we to judge?’ reflex is very powerful in our business,” Fallows wrote. “That is largely because we’re most comfortable when acting in the role of a referee at a sporting event … letting presumptively legitimate contenders fight it out on their own. To intervene directly and say ‘There are two sides here, but one of them is bunk’ is uncomfortable, because it seems ‘partisan.’ It is also risky, because it requires the reporter to learn enough about an issue to judge claims of relative truth.”

Turn now to the Islander editorial of last week, “Put our House in order,” which laid blame equally on House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat, and Ken Fredette, the House minority leader and a Republican, for the end-of-session legislative collapse in Augusta.

This is rather like saying that blame for the U.S. Senate’s failure to confirm Merrick Garland to a seat on the Supreme Court must be shared equally between Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Not so, of course, because this is not supported by the facts. Sometimes one party really is to blame, and false equivalence must yield to more careful analysis. Unfortunately, the Islander fell into the false equivalence trap.

In this case, blame for the end-of-session debacle in the Maine House rests squarely on the House Republicans and their leader, Fredette, who directed his caucus to oppose an extension of the legislative session if his demands were not met by House Democrats, who hold the majority. Fredette’s principal demands were to slow or curtail scheduled increases in the minimum wage (the increases were approved by Maine voters in a 2016 referendum) and to carve out funding for Medicaid expansion so that, standing alone, it could be vetoed by Gov. LePage (the Medicaid expansion also was approved by Maine voters at referendum). Fredette’s agenda has been to kill by legislative tactics what his party could not kill at the ballot box. How this becomes the fault of Gideon is not explained by the Islander.

In short, one party has endeavored to respect the will of the people, and the other has not. Resorting to false equivalence merely obscures this.

And while I’m at it, may I take issue with something Jill Goldthwait wrote? In her column last week, she opined that Lucas St. Clair is likely the Democrat with the best chance to defeat Bruce Poliquin in November. The reason? He grew up in rural Maine. Full stop.

Goldthwait, whose analysis usually sets a higher standard, overlooks the fact that the 2nd Congressional District includes not only large stretches of rural Maine but also such population centers as Lewiston, Auburn and Bangor.

Jared Golden, who currently represents Lewiston in the Maine House, can be expected to run strongly in his hometown, in other major population centers and wherever union members can be found. “Golden,” wrote Goldthwait, “is new to the north.” It can be said with equal certainty that St. Clair is new to the south. The 2nd Congressional District spans both.

Goldthwait also glosses over Golden’s legislative achievements during his four years in Augusta, which are considerable. St. Clair’s legislative achievements? There are none. Golden has twice won election to the Maine House, demonstrating his ability to connect with voters and get out the vote on Election Day. St. Clair has never won election to any statewide office. Golden served as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan, a record that can be expected to resonate with, yes, voters in rural Maine. On these facts, which candidate would appear better suited to defeat Poliquin?

John March

Mount Desert

 

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